If you’re beginning to approach your New York City admissions process, whether for nursery school, elementary school, high school, or somewhere in between, you may be feeling confused by all of the terminology involved in this journey. School websites, documents, communications from admissions counselors, and other sources of information are filled with terms that may be new to you.
If you’re feeling confused by all of the NYC admissions terms out there, you’re in the right place. This glossary is a first step to understanding the language of the admissions process. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!
Accept: Your child has been offered a place at the school you applied to. It’s important to be mindful of your deadline to either accept or decline your child’s place at that school. Of course, if you don’t intend to accept a place that you were offered, it’s most courteous to turn down that place as soon as possible so it can be offered to another family.
Application Deadline: A specific date by schools after which applications will no longer be accepted (unless there are exceptions specified). Applications are generally released, completed, and submitted in the fall of the year before your child’s start date at the new school - for example, if your child will enter high school in fall 2025, you’ll begin applying in fall 2024.
Campus Visit/Tour: The opportunity for a family and student to visit a prospective school campus. These visits or tours are a great opportunity to get a firsthand look at what student life is like; they typically include time for Q&A, so you can ask any questions you have about that school.
Child Playgroup: A playgroup is an alternative to a formal interview for younger students. Admissions committee members and/or educators observe children playing together to get a sense of how well a prospective school fits their learning and playing style. Specific policies on playgroups will vary among schools, including size of the group, separation policy from parents, and structure of play.
Child Visit: Depending on a child’s age, they may be asked to meet with a school admissions committee member as part of the admissions process. Depending on the school, this visit may be a formal interview, or it may be a more casual introduction.
Early Notification: Schools will often offer early notification of admissions decisions to siblings and legacy students who are applying for younger school programs. If you receive an early notification acceptance letter at your first-choice school, it’s a best practice to let other schools you’ve applied to know that you won’t be attending so they can free up the place that you may have received for another child.
Financial Aid: Tuition assistance offered by schools to individual families, generally based on financial need. Each school has its own process for calculating and awarding financial aid; contact your schools of interest directly to learn more.
First Choice Letters and References: Many families choose to send a first choice letter to their top choice school. These letters are not required, but are a great way to let a school know that you would definitely attend if your student was offered admission. Of course, you should only send a letter if you are absolutely certain that this is your first-choice school, and you would definitely attend if your student was accepted.
ISAAGNY: The Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York, a nonprofit member association of independent schools. ISAAGNY works with its member schools to set standards that ensure an ethical admissions process for all families. ISAAGNY’s guidelines ensure that your admissions process will be consistent and predictable for each member school you apply to.
ISEE: The Independent School Entrance Examination, used for admission to private elementary, middle, and high schools. Different levels of the test are offered depending on the student’s age. Make sure you’re familiar with the specific standardized testing requirements for each school you’re applying to; some schools have amended their testing policies in the wake of COVID.
Legacy: Typically, a student with a familial relationship to an alumnus of the school. The precise definition and significance of a legacy student will vary from school to school. Many schools will give some sort of preference to applicants who are legacy students; this preference could be an early application process, or early notification. Reach out to the specific schools on your list to clarify their legacy admissions processes, if relevant.
Matriculate: The official enrollment of a student in a school. Matriculation is typically defined by the signing of a contract and payment of an enrollment deposit.
Notification Date: The date(s) upon which you will receive notification from the schools you applied to. Members of ISAAGNY follow the same notification dates, to help you organize your admissions process; see here for details.
Parent Interview: Most schools require this interview as a step in the admissions process. Before COVID, these interviews always occurred in person; these days, some schools offer flexibility to conduct interviews virtually. Regardless, a parent interview is a chance for a school to get to know your family, and a chance for you to ask questions about the school in a more private setting than a tour or visit.
Recommendations: Statements written on behalf of an applicant in support of their admission to a prospective school. Remember: recommendations from someone who genuinely knows your child and can illustrate their personality in depth are preferable to recommendations from famous people or people connected to the target school that don’t actually know your child. Schools set specific guidelines around the number and type of recommendations they would like to receive and the deadlines for when recommendations must be submitted; verify dates with each of the schools on your list.
Regret/Deny: A decision by an admissions committee not to offer your student admission at their school. You may be able to apply in future admissions seasons, depending on your child’s age and the school’s specific policies.
Reply Date: The date(s) upon which your response to an acceptance offer is due. Members of ISAAGNY follow the same reply dates, to help you organize your admissions process; see here for details.
Revisit: Most schools will offer revisit days to accepted students in the spring, to offer students an additional opportunity to get on campus and experience student life at that school when deciding whether or not to accept an admissions offer. We highly encourage taking advantage of these visits, especially if your family is on the fence between schools.
School Records or Transcripts: Official records required by schools in the admissions process. ISAAGNY member schools will not formally enroll a student without receiving these records from a former school (as long as those records exist; this rule does not apply for nursery students entering school for the first time.) These records are kept confidential.
Special Needs School: Independent schools that offer specific curriculums and accommodations to students who have special needs and/or learning differences.
SSAT: The Secondary School Admissions Test, used for admission to private middle and high schools, but primarily used as part of the boarding school process. This test focuses on verbal, math, and reading skills. Make sure you’re familiar with the specific standardized testing requirements for each school you’re applying to; some schools have amended their testing policies in the wake of COVID.
SSS: The School Scholarship Service, an independent evaluator of financial aid requests. SSS provides a comprehensive, need-based financial aid solution that schools use to collect data fairly and equitably. Most ISAAGNY member schools use SSS within their financial aid process.
TADS: Formerly known as Tuition Aids Data Services, TADS is a provider of tuition management, admissions, and enrollment tools for schools. For families, TADS is most relevant due to its financial aid offerings, which most ISAAGNY member schools use to facilitate their financial aid program.
Waitlist or Waitpool: A list with an unspecified number of students that schools work through one-by-one to offer admissions acceptances if new places become available. If you are placed on a waitlist, it means that your child has not yet been accepted for the coming school year, but space may become available, and your child may ultimately be offered a place depending on waitlist movement. For more information on a school’s specific waitlist policy, or to express interest in remaining on a waitlist, reach out to schools directly.
Withdraw: Your family may withdraw an application from a school at any point during the admissions process. In fact, withdrawing your application(s) is recommended if you have already been accepted to your first-choice school and plan to accept that offer; in this case, withdrawing your application is a courtesy to other families to free up a place that you may have been offered.